Despite some poor play earlier in the month, Tennessee’s men’s basketball team closed out the month of February in a big way. The Vols went 6-2 in the month and closed it out on a three-game winning streak. That was punctuated by Tennessee’s dominating 76-54 victory over Mississippi State on the road on Tuesday.
And that win caught the attention of a big time college basketball analyst.
Jon Rothstein, a college basketball insider for CBS Sports, was watching the Vols dismantle the Bulldogs on Tuesday night. And he was so impressed with what he saw that he gave this glowing remark about Tennessee:
Tennessee is a dark horse Final Four team. Volunteers just punched Mississippi State right in the mouth. Tough, physical, and incredibly unselfish. Impressive.
— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) February 28, 2018
In fact, Rothstein was so impressed with the Vols that he ended up discussing them in an article on Wednesday morning.
“The Vols won’t possess the glitz or glamour of some of the other teams that will be among the top 12-16 seeds in the 2018 NCAA Tournament, but they do possess something very important — chemistry,” Rothstein wrote. “Rick Barnes’ squad plays in absolute harmony nearly each time it takes the floor, and that was evidenced in Tuesday night’s 22-point win at Mississippi State. The Bulldogs desperately needed a victory to stay on the right side of the bubble but were instead punched directly in the mouth by a team that can beat anyone on a given night.”
Tennessee has a 3-3 record against teams inside the top 25 of the RPI, a 6-5 record against teams ranked 1-50 in the RPI, and a 11-7 mark against teas inside the top 100 of the RPI. The Vols don’t have a “bad loss” on their record, and their worst loss in terms of the RPI was their loss on the road to Georgia on February 17th. The Bulldogs are No. 70 in the RPI.
Rothstein isn’t the first to suggest the Vols are potential Final Four sleeper team, though.
Last week, the Vols were tabbed as a potential Final Four dark horse team by the prediction matrix at PredictionMachine.com. Those bracket simulations gave the Vols a 12.2 percent chance of making the Final Four, and that was the highest among all teams with a No. 4 seed or higher.
The Vols have never made it to the Final Four in the school’s history. They were agonizingly close in 2010 when Tennessee made it to their first and so far only Elite Eight in program history, but they ultimately fell to Michigan State by a point, losing 70-69.
Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes has been to one Final Four and three Elite Eights in his 31 years of coaching. This year will mark the first time he’s taken the Vols to the NCAA Tournament.